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 APRIL '09
15/4Departed from UK
16/4MEXICO — Feeling slightly guilty about getting a £50 hotel in Mexico City for a couple of nights, when on a £30 a day budget for everything !
17/4Feeling more like a traveller now, paying 12 new pence to ride the Metro and only 1 pound to a street seller for some of the best tortilla with fantastic hot sauce ever !
18/4Very impressed with the (unfortunately much renovated) pyramids at Teotihuacan (near Mexico City). Checking into a proper youth hostel today (bye bye luxury residence).
19/4Knackered after doing the palace, anthropological museum, another modern art museum and some big church, all in one day
20/4I´ve been doing a few more of the sights in Mexico City in a slightly more relaxed manner today. I´ve got a 14 hour bus ride to San Cristobel tonight.
23/4Absolutely loved taking a boat trip up the Cañon del Sumidero (near San Cristobal de Las Casas), complete with crocodiles and monkeys !
24/4(Editor's note - first news of Swine Flu)
24/4Found the pyramid complex at Palenque amazing, and the waterfalls at Agua Azul and Misol-Ha great fun!
25/4Had the shock of my life when the night bus across Mexico was stopped, and a guy in full military fatigues ordered everyone to get off !  Thankfully it wasn´t bandits like all the stories I´ve been hearing, just a random checkpoint - phew !
26/4Relaxing in Merida for a couple of days.
27/4Attempted to go to a music festival in Merida last night, but it finished early because they got panicky about the swine flu thingy, so we went to a local bar and I got some Salsa lessons off a rather enthusiastic local lady !
28/4Went to the ruins at Uxmal yesterday and was delighted to find that there were very few other tourists there, so I got some great photos
29/4Visited the very extensive pyramid complex at Chichen Itza today and have just arrived in the beach-bum town of Tulum.
30/4BELIZE — Tulum's ruins were closed to visitors due to flu hysteria.  Got sunburnt on the amazing white sandy Caribbean beaches instead.  Made the decision to get out of Mexico early (they have closed all the tourist sites) and I'm now in Belize.  They speak more English here and have our queen's head on their notes, but it looks decidedly dodgy.

MAY '09
1/5found Belize City a bit of a shock when I got out of the bus station in the middle of what looked like the ghetto.  In reality, it was just the reality of life there.  Culture shock - maybe a little !  However, a local 61 year old 'character' called Frank showed us that it wasn't all so bad on his personal walking tour.
2/5just moved into a jungle hut, a few miles from San Ignacio in Western Belize.  The chicken bus ride here was fine, and the kids look a lot less threatening in this village - playing hide and seek and making me 'pinky-swear' not to give their secret location away (aw!).
3/5GUATEMALA(1st of 2) — saw the ruins at San Ignacio and Xunantunich - the latter was the best ! Had an absolute nightmare after crossing the border into Guatemala.  I was assured that there were several banks in Melchor de Mencos - there were: one didn´t take cards, another was shut (it was a Sunday!), one ATM had run out of cash, and the other suffered a power cut.  Luckily the power came back on a couple of hours later and a friendly local on a scooter ferried me about on my cash quest !  Phew !
4/5finally got to see the wonders of the ´mother of all Myan ruins´at Tikal.  It was a massive complex, supposedly with a population of up to 100,000 back in the day. Temple V was very scary to climb up and down: the ladder would no way pass EU health and safety laws.  It was fantastic!... but my personal favourite is still Palenque in Mexico.
5/5Just moved into a hostel on the other side of Lago de Peten Itza to explore Flores, Sanata Elena and San Miguel (not that one!) Had a chilled-out day just walking round Flores Island and going for a boat trip on the lake to rest my weary body from yesterday´s mamouth Maya trek at Tikal.
6/5travelled from Flores to Rio Dolce, went for a kayak and swim in the river, and spent the night in the jungle on a river tributory.  Muchos mosquitos!
7/5Went for a 3 hour cruise down the Rio Dulce today and had a pit-stop at some caves with loads of bats - wicked! I have now arrived in Livingston, which is very chilled-out.  One tip if you ever come here though is not to bother going to 'Los Siete Altares' (the seven water falls) in the dry season!
8/5HONDURAS — Now in Hunduras on route to Ceiba after a boat trip from Livingston to Purto Barios and a few rides in chicken buses.  Looking forward to a well-earned sleep tonight after all these miles of travelling!
9/5Had a VERY bumpy ferry ride from Ceiba to Utila in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras.  I'm going to be doing my Advanced PADI diving course over the next few days ...
10/5Checked in to Captain Morgan`s dive centre on a small island just off Utila and did my first 2 fun dives.
11/5Started my PADI Advanced Open Water course with my Deep Dive and Underwater Navigation.
12/5Finished my PADI Advanced Open Water course with a Wreck Dive, Peak Peformance Buoyancy and a Night Dive and saw my first octupus!
Did 2 fun dives per day for 5 days and ensured that my running budget got way ahead of where it should be! Had a fantastic time on the dives and I`m now very efficient with my buoyancy and therefore also my air usage. The afternoons and evenings in the hammocks on the jetty have been superbly relaxing!
18/5Sad to leave some good dive buddies (and one lovely German girl who couldn`t dive because of an ear infection - sniff!), but excited to be back on the road again and had a reasonably hassle free trip from Utila to Copan Ruinas on the Hondurus/Gutamala border.
19/5Went to see the sculptues and hieroglyphics at the Copan Ruinas ruins, which were quite interesting, but is feeling a bit 'templed-out' now.
20/5EL SALVADOR — Getting into the frighteningly strange habit of waking up at 6am with loads of energy and going straight out to do stuff! I am now in La Palma, El Salvador after a seriously steep bus ride across the mountainous border from Honduras.  It´s a cute/kitsch little artist´s village where Naive Art was founded by Fernando Llort.  I must go to bed now to rest for my ascent of the country´s highest peak tomorrow.
21/5Did my first hitch-hike in ages in El Salvador today when I found out that the next bus to the neighbouring village would be almost 3 hours!  I then followed it up with another lift in a pick-up to get me a significant way up Cerro El Pital (2730m - the highest mountain in the country). Then I crossed a VERY scary log bridge to get to the amazing view from Piedra Rajada.
22/5Finally managed to get to Santa Ana, El Salvador's 2nd city, with the help of a lovely young local girl: a farmer's daughter called Wendy Ezmerelda (although she doesn´t like her name!?).  I also met a couple of crazy ice cream sellers next to the cathedral, one of whom called himself William Shakespeare and had an extraordinary English accent! And I got called 'Gringo' for the first time today.
23/5Decided to spend an extra day in Santa Ana despite the many 'no gun zone' signs, which have the opposite effect to reassurance! Climbed the nearby active Volcan Izalco (with the obligatory armed escort), but was ordered to come down from the peak early due to the unusually large numbers of bees (!?) after a couple of people got stung.
24/5GUATEMALA(2nd spell) — Decided to take a slightly longer route to cross the border back into Guatamala today so that I could avoid the notoriously dangerous Guatamala City (better safe than sorry!).  I was sad to hear that one of my first travelling companions - Morne Du Toit - had his rucksack stolen in Mexico.  Anitgua really is as nice as everybody has been saying, although it's possibly a little bit overly-touristy now.
25/5I seem to be a magnet for teenagers wishing to practice their English.  Went to Volcan Pacaya (2552m) and saw lava first hand.  I have a photo of me poking the lava with a stick, but unfortunately there is a distinct lack of bravery on my face - it is very hot after all!  I could sit and stare at lava all day, listening to that fantastic liquid rock sound.  Fire!  Brilliant!  Brings the caveman out in you...
26/5Explored Antigua a bit more today and it is very nice, but it is sad to see that most of their historic landmarks have been practically destroyed by repeated earthquakes.  But perhaps that's why so many of their other buildings look so nice now (since they've been rebuilt)?  Got a great view of the town from Cerro de la Cruz - again with Tourist Police escort.
27/5COSTA RICA — Flew from Guatemala City to San Jose in Costa Rica.  My onward bus to Cariari was delayed by 4½ hours in total after heavy storms caused landslides on my mountainous route towards Parque National Tortuguero.
28/5Got a 6am bus from Cariari to La Pavona, followed by a boat along the river in the rainforest to the remote village of Tortuguero (pop 750) on the Carribean Coast. Had a swim in the warm tropical waters and then watched the local children catch the 'suicidal fish' that washed-up on the beach
29/5Had another dawn start for a guided canoe tour of the network of aquatic trails that wind through to the Rio Totuguero (thanks Roberto!).  I saw tucans, kingfishers, herons, Jesus Christ lizards, iguanas, brown headed monkeys, spider monkeys, (we only heard the howler monkeys) and finally... caimans! After dusk, the crabs and toads came out in force.
30/5Went back up river and then bussed through mountains and valleys to La Fortuna in the shadow of Volcan Arenal.
31/5Explored the trails in the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal.  I met a couple (a Mexican guy and an American gal) near the volcano and took them on their first ever hitch hike because there's only one bus back from the reserve on a Sunday and it was hours away and it was pissing it down! The rainy season has now well and truly kicked in, so it's a good job that I'm leaving soon.

JUNE '09
1/6Went for a dip in the cool turquoise pools below the waterfalls of La Caterata de Fortuna. The almost constant cloud cover made me bring my schedule forward a day because there was no chance of seeing the eruptions from Volcan Arenal.  I could hear and see the rocks falling, but not the lava spurting out. So I went to San Jose and checked in to a hostel with lots of cats, which was great!
2/6Took a leisurely stroll around San Jose with a Cypriot guy and got a few more photography pointers. It was a little perturbing how two more locals came up to us and said that we should be careful with our cameras and bags.  I can now confirm the reports that you really don't need more than a day to do the sights in San Jose, but I'm still glad that I did.
3/6ECUADOR — Flew from San Jose (Costa Rica) to Quito (Ecuador) today, after paying the exorbitant $26 exit fee.  I went for a quick random explore of the city in the two hours of light that I had left and my first impressions were: great!
4/6Explored Quito in more detail today and my first impressions were confirmed: I would definitely recommend it as a must see city of the world.  The Spanish certainly did a fantastic job of destroying every semblance of Inca architecture and replacing it with their own.  It is very impressive though! There are shed loads of heavily armed police in the tourist areas, so it does feel safer than I expected.
5/6Faced my (healthy) fear of heights again by climbing La Basilica in Quito.  It felt much safer than El Duomo in Florence because I knew that it was built with steel reinforcing.  I also saw a parade with school marching bands for the bicentennial celebrations of the liberation from the Spanish in 1809. I even saw the President make a speech in the Plaza Grande; not that I could understand much of it.
6/6Left Quito very early in the morning for a long journey to Los Cedros (  From the village of Chontal it was a 5 hour mule treck along the Rio Magdalena and up into the cloud forest, where I anticipate staying for almost a month as a volunteer.

—       Journal suspended due to lack of access to the web         —         see the Bulletin #4

30/6Left Los Cedros Biological Reserve and had a much faster and drier return mule trek to Chontal where I had my first Coke (actually it was 6 in the end) in almost a month.  I went out with a French guy called Etienne for a well deserved posh (by travellers standards) meal and then on to a night club in New Town, Quito.

JULY '09
1/7Spent ½ hour on hold to T-Mobile (bar stewards!) and had a filling replaced, then went on a a frantic 5 hour bus journey to Banos... what a pleasant day!? Had another splurge dinner tonight at a Swiss restaurant with a French couple, but I will have to go back to budget meals again from tomorrow
2/7After a well-deserved lie in, went for a hot bath in Banos (Spanish for bath) at the Piscina de la Virgen, which I was somewhat (pleasantly) surprised to find was almost exclusively filled with locals. I then went for a leisurely stroll around the relaxed and friendly town. I had lunch for 95 cents (including drink) and bought a HUGE bunch of bananas for 50 cents to placate my budget guilt.
3/7Went mountain biking from Banos to Machay today: about 30km... all downhill - hoorah!  Overdosed on picturesque waterfalls: Goyan, Maxto de Novia, Pailon del Diablo and Machay to name but a few.  Had a scary 500m cable ride 100m above the Rio Pastaza. The highlight was climbing up behind Pailon del Diablo and got soaked en-route by the "natural shower" - mental!
4/7Went white water rafting down the Rio Pastaza - class 3/4, which was enough for me... got very wet!  Took a bus to Riobamba to find out that the train for tomorrow was fully booked, so got another bus to Alausi to catch the Nariz del Diablo (Devi's Nose) from there instead. The fair in Alausi includes a small ferris wheel powered by a car engine and operated using the full clutch and gear mechanisms!
5/7Queued for 2 hours in Alausi to get tickets for the Nariz del Diablo (Devi's Nose) train which was 1 hour late for its 1½ hour journey (i.e. twice as much waiting as doing!).  It was good to tick the box and say that I've done it, but now that riding on top of the train has been banned (after someone fell off and died), it's not exactly the thrill ride that I was hoping for.
6/7Explored Cuenca, Ecuador's 3rd largest city today. It is justifiable to compare its beauty to Quito.  It is much smaller, but it also feels safer and generally more relaxed in atmosphere.  The 'New Cathedral' (opposite the 'Old Cathedral') is very impressive with its especially wide nave.  And there are lots of good bakeries - you have no idea how much us travellers crave decent bread out here!
7/7Went to the ruins at Ingapirca today: ?the most important Inca site in Ecuador?.  It was OK, but I must admit that my standards have been set high from Mexico and Guatemala, so it was just another tick in the box really (sorry if that sounds a bit snobby). The ?tsantsas? (shrunken heads) at the Museo Pumapungo back in Cuenca were cool though!
8/7Back in Quito - for the 3rd time(!) - after a 10 hour night bus ride. Went to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) for a bit of hemisphere hopping. The Museo Solar Inti Nan (supposedly on the real equator, as per modern GPS readings) was also quite interesting, with a few fun experiments... although I can't say that I was convinced by the science behind some of the things they got us tourists to do
9/7Went up the teleferiQo in Quito: 2.5km sky tram ride up along the flanks of Volcan Pichincha to the top of Cruz Loma (4100m).  I then hiked the rest of the way to the summit of Rucu Pichincha with a couple of Danish guys.  However, it is so high up in the clouds, that we couldn't see much at all. All this altitude training and tomorrow I go to the Galapagos Islands, which are near sea level... obviously!
10/7Flew to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands, got on the boat that will be my home for 5 days and sailed to Seymour Island.  Saw lots of boobies!!! (of the blue footed variety). Swam with sea lions!!!
11/7Sailed to Rabida Island (a.k.a. Jervis) with its red beach and saw fur seals and cool cacti trees.  Did some hermit crab racing.  Sailed to James Island (a.k.a. Santiago) with its black beach and saw lots of crabs and iguanas.  Swam with 6 - count them: 6 - turtles!!!
12/7Sailed to Chinese Hat Island to see some baby seals and also swam with some sting rays.  Sailed to Bartolome Island to see the ?moonscape? as well as some reef sharks and penguins.  Got sh@t on by a frigate bird, which the lady I was with said was ?lucky? - WTF!  For those that don?t know, a frigate bird is several times the size of your everage London pigeon
13/7Sailed to South Plaza Island and got trapped on the jetty by a large sea lion when I took too long taking pictures - doh!  Saw the mixed - sea/land - iguanas.  Sailed to Santa Fe Island to see the pure land iguanas.  Saw more sharks and swam with a manta ray!  I got a bit cocky and ended-up getting head-butted by a sea lion!!! Thankfully it was only a pup wanting to play and not an alpha bull after a fight!
14/7Went to the Charles Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz Island (a.k.a. Indefatigable).  Saw 'Lonesome George' - the last male giant tourtoise of his kind.  I also remembered why I dislike zoos as much as I like them - so sad to see animals penned-in. Fly back to Quito.
15/7Went for a final day out in Quito after my fourth separate visit to the city.  I decided to go to the Basilica del Voto Nacional for the 3rd time because I think it's so cool, it has definitely been in some films that I have seen, but I can't remember which ones. Got on a night bus to Puerto Lopez (10 hours).
16/7Took a boat trip from Puerto Lopez to Isla de la Plata ('the poor man's Galapagos').  The main reason for me doing this was actually the whale watching. We saw quite a few humpback whales, including a rarely seen baby one!  I also saw a red octopus whilst snorkling.
17/7Did the beach and cliffs trail around Playa Los Frailes near Machalilla: it was very picturesque.  I packed my rain gear due to the sky in the morning, but it was brilliant sunshine by the time I got there and I had no swimming gear - doh!  The bus went straight past me on the way back (full, I think), but I managed to hitch a lift with a van load of local workers and then a kid on a small motorbike :-)
18/7PERU — Spent all of today on buses, going from Puerto Lopez, via Guayaquil, crossing the border from Ecuador to Peru at Huaquillas and ending the night in Mancora.  I would like to save time and money by taking night buses, but it's difficult with itinerary on this stretch, plus I get much better sleep in a propper hostal bed.
19/7Had another day on the bus, going from Mancora to Chiclayo.  It gave me some time to get into my current book: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which is quite a thought provoking read.  Got in late and checked out the Cathedral at night: it was packed!  They even had TV screens for the people standing at the sides to see the action.
20/7Went to see the tombs of the Lords of Sipan and Sican at Sipan, near Chiclayo.  Pleasingly, I was the only gringo tourist at the site.  I met a radiologist from Lima on the way there in a colectivo and an electrician, also from Lima, paid for my cab ride on the way back.  [Note to Lads: he had his wife and kids with him, so - NO - it wasn't one of "those" kinds of rides!]
21/7Got a nightbus to Chachapoyas (11 hours) and arrived just in time to get a tour to Kuelap this morning.  It's an amazing pre-Inca citadel on top of a mountain.  The site is normally in cloud, but we luckily had brilliant sunshine... until a storm broke for the return journey.  The switchbacks up and down the mountain were VERY scarily steep.  Caught another nightbus (13 hours) to Trujillo.
22/7Had a semi-relaxing day around Trujillo today.  There isn't a huge amount to do in the city itself, plus one of the historic houses in my guidebook has now closed to the public and one of the museums (that is under a Repsol petrol station - weird, huh!?), was also closed for the afternoon.  However, the modern art gallery on the outskirts of town is probably the best I've seen since I started travelling.
23/7Went to La Huaca del Sol, La Huaca del Luna, La Huaca Arco Iris, Chan Chan and the beach at Huanchaco today on a guided tour.  I was impressed by the height of La Huaca del Sol pyramid and the colours preserved at La Huaca del Luna, but the sheer size of the complex at Chan Chan was the most impressive bit.  They really need to build a tower there so that you can see it all.
24/7Explored Lima today.  Several policemen stopped me from going off the main tourist streets and into the notoriously dodgy areas, which is good I suppose, but the other areas often looked more interesting.  Saw the Plaza de Armas, Palacio de Gobierno, Archbishop's Palace, Museo de la Inquisicion, La Catedral de Lima and the Monasterio de Lima (very funky library).  And a local guy tried to chat me up!
25/7Climbed the Maranga adobe pyramid called Huaca Huallamarca in central Lima.  It's weird to find such a ruin right in the heart of a capital city, but I guess that the Giza pyramids are also going that way.  Took a bus to Pisco to start my volunteering work with Pisco Sin Fronteras:  They were a very welcoming bunch and I got to go straight out to a nightclub with them.???
26/7Went for a day trip to the Islas Ballestas: another "poor man's Galapagos".  The rock formations were great and the famous Candelabra - a three pronged figure etched into sandy hills - was also very interesting.  I wrestled with my morals and went to a cock fight (at the same nightclub as last night).  I wasn't very good at picking the winner (1 out of 4) and I really have no desire to go again.  Cooked stew!
27/7 Did my first day of manual labour as a volunteer for PSF.  I showed my willingness to muck in by volunteering for the most basic job on the day's list: shifting soil and rubble from mounds along the streets (dirt roads) to level the ground ready for a house to be built.  It was very physical work on a hot and sunny day.  The locals pitched in to help, which was great, but apparently/sadly not always the case.
28/7Chilled-out because it's a public holiday here in Peru for today and tomorrow.  Went to the beach for a bit of Frisbee and American football throwing.
29/7Had another chilled-out day on another public holiday here in Peru.  We played some cards and watched a couple of knock-off DVD's (you couldn't buy genuine ones out here if you tried!) and generally hung out and relaxed.  It's a bit frustrating though because I arrived on a Saturday after everyone had finished work, so this is my 5th day here and I have only done one day of volunteer work so far.
30/7Did a concrete pour for the foundations of a house today.  We only got half of it done because the steel reinforcements hadn't been lined-up properly before we arrived, so we had to sort them out first.  It feels good to be helping out at last though!
31/7Helped with the prep and pour of the concrete foundations on a mid-stage project to build three communal toilet and shower facilities.  It's for a large settlement of displaced people living in temporary buildings i.e. lots of odd scraps of wood and steel nailed together.

1/8Trench digging today to prepare the foundations for a new house for an old couple living in a temporary hut.  It's a sad story because they had a builder in to re-build their home and they unfortunately paid him upfront and he never came back.  Dodgy builders are obviously everywhere!  Went on a "photo safari" in a group of 8 for safety in numbers around some of the devastated beach front areas.
2/8Had a bout of D&V last night, so I spent most of the day in bed :- ( Luckily I had checked-in to a hostal (2GBP per night!) a couple of nights ago to get my own space, so at least I could watch movies on TV.
3/8Finished the concrete pours for the foundations of the four (not 3 as previously stated) communal toilet and shower facilities.  I still feel a bit under the weather so it was pretty hard work though.  Got showed some underground tunnels by a local guy; I must admit that I was a bit dubious at first about following the guy down, but he had his two kids with him, so I figured it was OK.
4/8Still felt tired from my toilet troubles, so I took the day off work and spent most of it in bed (or in the loo).
5/8Continued helping with the bathrooms project.  We started laying bricks today, which was a learning process for everyone.  Still feeling a bit run down.
6/8Had a really bad night and morning on the loo again.  I've started taking antibiotics.
7/8Feeling a bit better after my day off yesterday.  Continued laying bricks for the bathrooms project.  Got slightly sunburnt by working without my shirt on and forgetting to put it back on again when the clouds cleared.
8/8Worked on a concrete pour for a playground at a local school in Pisco.  The kids were all off due to the swine flu precautions being taken in Peru.  Went to Huacachina with about 30 other volunteers from PSF for a night out.
9/8Went dune buggying and sandboarding around Huacachina.  It was absolutely amazing - such an adrenaline rush!  There were plenty of minor injuries in our groups; sand burns for those not wearing the right clothing, whiplash from people who bundled it on the way down, but only one person had to go to hospital (to have sand removed from her eye).  I crashed into someone's board after they came off: Ouch!
10/8Back in Pisco and back to work on the toilet and shower units.  We're getting slightly faster at laying the bricks now, but it is still slow progress.  Very hot and sunny all day, which is draining, but at least my insides are much better now! A friend called Jody that I met at Reserva Los Cedros in Ecuador arrived tonight to visit me.
11/8Went with Jody to the national park at Paracas to get a boat over to the Islas Ballestas again.  However, we got there at 10am just in time to see the last boat leave, so we spent the day chilling in Paracas and Pisco instead.  We got the munchies and feasted on pizza, crisps and chocolate!  We visited a couple of Pisco's cake ladies who sell their delicious wares from little stands outside their front doors.
12/8Work on the toilet and shower units continued with yet more brick laying.  I swear that a pro could get each of these units done in a day; it's taking us more like 12 man-days each.  Was in the mood for more cake eating tonight.  These local gateaux-entrepreneurs are bad for my waistline!
13/8Had a change of pace and scenery today as a classroom assistant at a UNICEF school called Ludoteca in one of the poorest districts of town.  The kids loved us gringo play toys! The older boys in the morning were extremely hard work.  The girls in the afternoon were a lot less trouble, but required more shoulder-carries and general swinging-around.?  Every volunteer tries it, but nobody returns - I can now see why
14/8Trained another person how to lay bricks - gringo volunteer in Peru style - today at the toilet and shower units.  I'm reasonably profficient by local standards now, although a career change deffinitely does not beckon.
15/8Mourned the two year anniversary of the earthquake here in Pisco.  There were protests in town about the continued lack of action by the government, as well as much 'lost cash'.  I worked with a guy called Jake on building a burning man for tomorrow's more up-beat annivarary of Pisco Sin Fronteras.?  He was already part-way through the? build, but I designed the mechanism for the swinging arm, etc.
16/8Enjoyed the one year anniversary celebrations (and my last night) with the other 50ish current volunteers at PSF, along with some of the local people whom the organisation has helped over time.  My burning man mechanism performed spectacularly with a pick-axe piercing with aerosol can filled with butane and propane for an explosive start to the evening party down on the beach!?  Oh how I love a good fire!
17/8Took a bus to Nazca and met a Russian called Boris(!)  We took a light aeroplane flight over the Nazca lines - amazing!  I enjoyed the ride in the plane almost as much as seeing the lines themselves.  I have a minor conspiracy theory that it was the Peruvian tourist board who put them there.Peruvian tourist board who put them there.
18/8Explored Arequipa today. The Monasterio Santa Catalina was quite impressive due to its sheer scale, but I have to admit to being underwhelmed by the rest of the city.  This is partly due to everyone I've met hyping it up, I guess.?  It has suffered a few earthquakes over time and unfortunately I feel that it has been re-built in a bit of a bland and cheap version of its former original colonial glory.?  Shame.
19/8Left at 3:30 am on day 1 of my 3 day trek through Canon del Colca (Colca Canyon) near Arequipa (probably the best reason for going to the city).  Saw "the flight of the condor" as the agencies like to call it: i.e. some condors flying about ...?  Had lunch in Cabanaconde before a 3 hour trek all down hill into the canyon and spending the night in a very 'rustic' lodgings in the tiny village of Topay....
20/8Had a lie in until 6:00 am on day 2 of my trek through Colca Canyon.  We went to a very 'cute' single room museum run by a local villager, which was actually more interesting than most of the museums that I have been to in South America - tips go into a pair of bulls' testicles.?  After our 3 hour trek (mainly level going), we relaxed in an oasis and did a spot of star gazing - there were loads!
21/8Got up at 5:00 am on the final day of our Colca Canyon trek for a 3 hour slog straight up the mountain.  A couple of people decided to take the option of a mule ride, but I am in training (albeit not too stretching) for the Inca Trail, so I hiked it like most people.?  Went for a dip in the hot springs at Chivy before returning to Arequipa, only to get straight on a night bus for 10 hours - lovely!
22/8Arrived in Cusco at 5:30 am and spent the day exploring the city at random.  As luck would have it there was a festival on celebrating local dress and traditional dance cultures.  The procession was great and it was a lovely sunny day for it - sunny but not too hot due to the altitude.?  Cuso is definitely the most beautiful city that I have been to in Peru so far, by quite a margin
23/8Took a tour of the sites around the outskirts of Cusco.  The supposed 'traditional market' at Pisac was just a tourist market, so it was very dissapointing because I'm not buying any souvenirs.  The ruins at Pisac and Ollantaytambo were pretty good, but they didn't give us enough time to explore them properly.  The old church at Chinchero was beautifully painted, but not really worth the time.
24/8Day 01 of the Inca Trail 4 day trek to Machu Picchu: a 5 am start from Cusco with a bus to km 82 and hiking 12 km to Wayllabamba (from 2600m to 3000m).  A relatively easy first day, taking in the Inca hillfort of Huillca Raccay and the extensive Inca ruins of Llactapata.
25/8Day 02 of the Inca Trail: 12 km - mainly uphill - from Wayllabamba to Pacamayo (from 3000m to 3600m via Dead Woman's pass at 4200m).  This was a more challenging hike, especiallly considering the fact that I chose to carry my own rucksack and gear (excluding tent and cooking stuff, which the porters carry).  I am loving Freddy's (our tour guide) little soundbites about Pachamama, or 'Mother Earth'.
26/8Day 03 of the Inca Trail: 15 km up and down from Pacamayo to Wiñay Wayna (3600m to 2700m via Runkurakay at 3800m).  We saw the ruins of Runkuracay and the impressive Phuyupatamarca.  The rainforest was beautiful along a part of the trek that has original Inca paving and thousands of stairs!  We have been extremely lucky with the weather; raining at night and the cloud clearing up during the mornings.
27/8Day 04 of the Inca Trail: a mere 5 km from Wiñay Wayna to Machu Picchu (from 2700m to 2400m).  The first stage to Intipunku (the Sun Gate) was a bit of a battle, but it was fantastic when the mist cleared and we finally got our first precious glimpse of Machu Picchu with our trek 'Family'.  I spent hours walking round and also simply sitting and taking in the magnificence of the ruins: absolutely amazing.
28/8Felt absolutely exhausted after the adrenalin of the trek (not to mention the coca leaves) had faded, so I had a much needed lie-in.  No rest for the wicked though and I went on a tour of some more of the sites near Cusco in the afternoon, inc.: Quenqo, Cussillochayoc, Pucapucara, Tambomachay and Sacsayhauman - a.k.a. 'Sexy Woman'.  Not a patch on Machu Picchu though.
29/8Still feeling tired from the Inca Trail, so I took a cushy 'tourist bus' from Cusco to Puno.  We stopped at a few semi-notable sites, inc.: Andahuaylillas (old lavishly decorated church), Sicuani (cute village), La Raya (Lamas & Alpacas, Rumicolcathe Abra Raya Pass (4319m), Raqchi (Temple of Viracocha) and Pucara (museum & ceramic bulls).
30/8Took a boat trip to the floating islands of the Uros people (Islas Flotantes), which were indeed 'shockingly commercialised', as the Lonely Planet had warned, and Isla Taquile.  It was mainly a chance to relax and enjoy a cruise on Lake Titicaca; the highest 'navigable' (whatever!) lake in the world.  Saw a duck being beaten to death by a couple of local guys in a boat.
31/8BOLIVIA — Caught what I thought was going to be another cushy tourist bus from Puno (Peru) accross the border to La Paz (Bolivia).  However, there was a lot of confusion over which bus we were changing to in Copacabana, then we had to get off the new bus whilst... it was ferried across the lake (Titicaca) in a very precarious-looking boat.  Randomly met two different couples who I have previously met whilst travelling.

1/9Took a 20 ish hour bus ride from La Paz to Rurrenabaque in the Amazon basin.  The scenery en route, especially up in the clouds, was amazing!  It was well worth the scariness of the dodgy vehicle and the high drop-offs on the road.
2/9Exhausted through lack of sleep on yesterday's bus journey, so I mainly just chilled-out in Rurrenabaque this morning.  In the afternoon went for a walk by myself along a riverside path in the rainforest.  I gave one native lady a fright when I stumbled through what must have been her back garden ... she was topless.  oops!
3/9Started my 3 day 'pampas' tour this morning, leaving for Santa Rosa by jeep - 3 hours away via a very dusty road!  We (5 of us) then got into our motor canoe for an amazing wildlife extravaganza for 3 hours down tributory rivers in the Amazon basin.  Alligators, turtles, terrapins, pink river dolphins, capybara, caiman and birds galore!  The night boat ride to see alligators in the dark was eerie!
4/9Went searching for anacondas in the pampas and shallow rivers (it is the dry season here at present) in the morning.  We only managed to find one that had very recently been killed and was in the process of being devoured by vulchers.  We did some pirhana fishing in the afternoon and ironically I was the best in the group.  Obviously, I did not participate in eating them!
5/9Got up for the sunrise and had a few more hours cruising the pampas rivers in our chauffeur-driven motor canoe.  We then headed back to Rurrenabaque in the jeep via the dusty tracks again.  Surprisingly (after our hours of previous efforts in wellies... in the pampas) we found an anaconda that was crossing the road... box ticked!
6/9Took the 20 ish hour bus ride back from Rurrenabaque to La Paz.  There was almost a mutiny on board when the driver wanted to take an additional snack break.
7/9Walked around La Paz with a Brit called Andrew today.  There really isn't much of note here!  However, the modern art gallery contained some great works, one of which I was almost tempted to purchase (apart from the logistics of getting it home), ... but buying stuff is just not what my travels are about.  My knees hurt from walking up and down all the steep hills of the city!
8/9Survived mountain-biking down 'Death Road' today.  OK, it's a bit of a gringo trap, but the scenery is stunning: from snow-capped mountains, through cloud forest and down into the valley below via an incredibly windy track with sheer drop-offs.  I think it's a perfect use for an old road that has been superseded.  I would certainly recommend it!
9/9Arrived at Parque Machia in Villa Tunari (Bolivia) to start my 3 weeks volunteering with  I was lucky enough to get assigned to exactly the role that I wanted: looking after the Capuchin monkeys. The days are going to be long and hard working.

—       Journal suspended due to lack of access to the web         —         see the Bulletin #6

21/9I know that I'm meant to be offline at present, but this is important - they are building a road through Machia Park, but they brought in the diggers before the agreed timescales so we haven't been able to move our monkeys yet.  We had to block a bulldozer by sitting down in front of it until they stopped to talk to us.  The president of Bolivia has now intervened and ordered that they stop work until the relevant actions have been coimpleted.  Success - for now?
The story story got reported in the local press  — click  here
-- And yes, that is me on the very far right hand side (although cut off)!  — click  photo

1/10Paid a fond fairwell to my 40+ Capuchin monkeys at Parque Machia ( in Bolivia.  I'm even going to miss the really naughty little monkeys like Juanito and Snowball (but maybe not psycho Danielito)!  Caught a nightbus from Cochabamba to Potosi.
2/10Explored the highest city in the world: Potosi, Bolivia.  I also went on a tour of the cooperative mines, which was certainly a stark reminder of the conditions that some people in the world still have to work in (even if it is by choice, to some extent).  Blowing up dynamite is great fun though!.  Caught a late bus to Uyuni.
3/10Salt Flats Tour - Day 1 of 4: Departed Uyuni (3669m) at about 11am and had our first stop at to visit the Train Graveyard.  We then got on to the salt plains proper: wow!  Lots of white!  Visited Isla de los Pescados, which luckily did not smell of fish.  Was dumped by my agency with little explanatiion ("someone will pick you up 2pm tomorrow"), so I found another group and joined them for the sunset.
4/10Salt Flats Tour - Day 2 of 4: Received a message to change to my third group who I climbed Volcano Tunupa with, up to the nearside rim at 5200m (the very top at 5400m would have necessitated climbing over cliffs).  We were one hour late because we were actually only meant to go to the mirador about 4200m.  Changed to my fourth group (!) to go back to Isla de los Pescados(!).  Saw an Osterich there though!?
5/10Salt Flats Tour - Day 3 of 4: Visited a series of stunning lagoons called Laguna Cañapa, Laguna Hedionda and Laguna Chiarkota and admired the flamingos there too.  Stopped briefly at Arbol de Piedra (a stone tree carved out by wind) and some other amazing other rock formations.  Fished at Laguna Colorad (4278m) in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina: a lake colured red by algae.
6/10Salt Flats Tour - Day 4 of 4: Started at the Solar de Manaña (4850m) - a collection of bubbling sulfur pools and a (fake!) geyser.  Took a dip in the Termas de Polques hot spings (4400m) adjacent to Salar de Chalviri. Stopped at Laguna Verde (4400m - coloured green by Arsenic/Lead/Coper, etc) which reflects Vulcan Lincacabur.  The jeep ride back to Uyuni had yet more stunning desert and mountain scenery.
7/10ARGENTINA — Took a night-train from Uyuni to Villazon and then crossed the border into Argentina at La Quaica by foot.  Had the front seats on the top floor of the bus for a panaramic view of the beutiful mountain scenery on the seven hour ride to Salta.
8/10Explored Salta, which is supposedly an up and coming backpacker/tourist hotspot, but it was just - well - OK, I suppose?  Some pleasant plaza's and it's certainly a lot more developed than Bolivia!  Started the 23 hour bus ride to Puerto Iguazu.
9/10Finished the 23 hour bus ride to Puerto Iguazu: ½ hour early - wow! - maybe Argentinian buses really are as good as everybody said they were?
10/10PARAGUAY + BRAZIL — just 1 day took a tour (from Puerto Iguazu, Argentina) to see the Itaipu dam in Paraguay: the 2nd largest dam in the world ("Well, I'll be dammed!"... "Is that a god dam?").  Got caught in ridiculous traffic in Ciudad del Este near the market.  Crossed over to Foz do Iquacu in Brazil to see the 'grand overview' of the Iguazu falls.  Pretty impressive!
11/10had a full day on the Argentinian side of the Iguazu falls.  It certainly is the more impressive side, so I'm glad that I did it last.  I also took the motor boat ride under the falls, but that was vastly overated [it was much more fun walking under the falls at Banos in Ecuador.  Started the 17 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires.
12/10Finished the 17 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires - 5 hours late!  The city was eerily quiet due to the holiday.  Then 3 PEOPLE TRIED TO MUG ME!!! They splashed a stinky liquid on the back of my neck, then a little old lady offered me a tissue and a guy offered me some water to wash it off with.  When I took my bag off, I remembered the tales from other travellers, thanked them ... and walked off!
13/10Did a bit more exploring around Buenos Aires city centre.  The La Boca area, including the colourful streets (buildings covered with brightly painted corrugated steel) nearby the stadium were pretty cool.  Buenos Aires is - in general - much more developed than the other major cities that I have been to in South America.  Started my last 20 hour bus ride in SA — to Santiago.
14/10Explored Santiago, which even beats Buenos Aires in terms of its modern/western look and feel.  The best bit for me was the little hill right in the centre of town called Cerro Santa Lucia.  It has some funky/old/romantic staircases leading up to a castellated platform, which has great views of the city and surrounding mountains (not much smog today!).  There were lots of teenagers courting — how sweet!
15/10NEW ZEALAND — 15th October 2009: didn't really exist for me.  I departed Santiago airport on the 14th and I arrived in Auckland on the 16th (13 hour flight), crossing the International Dateline over the Pacific Ocean.
16/10Arrived in Auckland and I must say that it was a great feeling to be in a modern, English speaking country for a change, especially one that is so much like England: a real home away from home.  Went up the Sky Tower (222m viewing platform - 328m total height), which was a little nerve-wracking, especially when standing on the glass floored bits [shudder].
17/10Started the Kiwi Experience tour (Sheepdog) today.  We went to Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, which were fun and finished in Mercury Bay.  The weather isn't so great though — a bit too much like English drizzle!  A sad fact is that I am the oldest person on the bus; but I drowned my sorrows with my first beer in 6 months!  I really hadn't missed it though.  Not sure what all the fuss is about really.
18/10Went for a walk in the Karangahake Scenic Reserve, along the gorge and through the old gold mine tunnels.  Stopped briefly in Paeroa (home of L&P) and Matamata, which has now been re-named Hobbiton to capitalise on the Lord of the Rings scenes filmed around the town.  Went around the Te Puia thermal park in Rotorau.  Finished the day with a Mouri experience at the Tamaki Maori Village.
19/10Went on a couple of short walks in the NZ countryside.  Watched an angora bunny rabbit getting sheared, which was weird.  Did 'black water rafting' through the incredible Ruakuri Cave in Waitomo.  This involved caving in a wet-suit, floating on a rubber ring down an underground river and jumping backwards off waterfalls in the dark: fantastic!  The gloworms were amazing too!
20/10Did another couple of walks in the NZ countryside, partly because of alterations to our schedule.  I was meant to be jumping out of a plane over Taupo lake/volcano, but the weather did not permit.  The fast-moving water through the channel leading up to the Huka falls was quite cool though.
21/10Did the Tongariro Crossing - billed as the best one day trek in NZ.  Some stunning scenery inc.  the Emerald Lakes.  The weather started out like a clear spring day; as we neared the summit it turned into a cold snowy winter and the clouds drew in; then the wind picked-up like an autumn gale and eventually blew away the clouds to leave us with a beautiful sunny summers afternoon.  Truly 4 seasons in one day!
22/10Passed Lake Taupo in the rain (again): 'Land of the Big White Cloud'...  indeed! Visited the Taranaki Falls, which was the backdrop for yet another scene in Lord of the Rings.  Ended the day at the River Valley Adventure Lodge, where we had a few beers and played 2 games of Texas Holdem: I was 1st out on the first game, but I won the 2nd with 4x10's ($60 = nice)!  Had a swarm of green moths at night.
23/10Took the flying fox accross the river and walked up the steep hillside at River Valley Adventure Lodge.  Stopped in Bulls which had lots of 'comedy' store names, playing on the town's name:  Finished the day in the capital city of Wellington, which is very much like some of the nicer parts of London.
24/10Got up early for the ferry from Wellington, accross the Cook Strait and through Malborough Sounds to Picton.  A couple (a German lady and a New Zealand bloke) got married on the top deck, which was sweet.  Did a bit of wine tasting en-route (Sauvignon Blanc, Reisling and Pinot Noir).  Ended the day with a walk up a hill in Nelson to the 'Centre of New Zealand'.
25/10Had a picnic lunch at the edge of the very picturesue Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park.  Continued on to Buller Gorge where I did a horse ride down in the valley, crossing a part of the river and getting a bit wet.  I was not 'born to ride'!  Finished the day with a walk around the harbour at Westport.
26/10Had a very scenic drive along the West Coast of New Zealand down from Westport to Lake Mahinapua.  We stopped for a walk around the Cape Foulwindseal colony and the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, but the tides were out, so the blowholes weren't that spectacular.  Got ID'd for alcohol: oh how good that felt!  We had a fancy dress party at night: some fun/embarrassing photos will follow in due course.
27/10Jumped out of a perfectly good plane at 12,000 feet!!!  I have woken up in cold sweats many times thinking about this over the past few months, but the reality was fantastic: what a rush!  I had a perfectly clear day with stunning views of the Southern Alps - including Mount Cook and the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers - rainforest, Lake Matheson and the Tasman Sea.  Box well and truly ticked...  thanks Deano!
28/10Hiked up the Franz Joseph glacier.  It was another cloudy and rainy day, but that made it all the more of an adventure ... even though we got pretty cold and soaking wet.  Bruce - our guide - did a sterling job of carving-out some fresh steps for us to access a vertical tunnel through the ice, as well as a VERY tight cravass.  Warmed-up later in the local hot pools - nice!
29/10Visited a couple of lakes, including Lake Matheson, which had a cool reflection of Mount Cook.  Crossed the Haast Pass and also took in views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.  Finished the day in Wanaka, where a few of us climbed Mount Iron for views over the town and surrounding lakes and mountains.
30/10Had a bit of fun with the optical illusions at Puzzling World, which had a great Ames Room.  The 3D maze was challenging, but it was satisfying to complete it ... eventually! Saw AJ Hackett's first bungy site at Kawarau Gorge and a couple of our Kiwi Experience bus jumped off it: I'm saving myself for the big one.  Had a big night out in Queenstown - for Kyle's birthday.
31/10Battled with a hangover and had a walk around Queenstown Park and Lake Wakatipu.  Took the gondola up the hill and watched another one of our crew throw themselves off 'The Ledge': I'm still saving myself.  Did a couple of luge rides - came last, then first!  Went out in Queenstown again for Halloween - or 'Fluoroween' as the bar called it.

1/11Did an excursion to see the fjords of Milford Sound.  It was another cloudy day, but this gave the place the characteristic 'mystical feel' that it is renowned for.  Saw some penguins and fur seals, but unfortunately no whales today.  Went to the underwater observatory to and saw black coral ... which is actually white!  Also stopped at a few nice spots, inc. streans, lakes and waterfalls (again).
2/11Spent all morning in bed mentally preparing for my bungy jump and canyon swing, only to have it cancelled at the last minute ... due to mechanical failure.  This did nothing for my nerves, or any of the other people that I was going to be jumping with ... so we all went down the pub :-)
3/11Spent all morning in bed with a raging hangover and had to drag my sorry arse to the AJ Hackett bungy centre in Queenstown.  I did the Nevis Highwire Bungy: 134 metre drop with 8.5 seconds fall time.  This was probably the most scared that I have ever been!  Thank god it's over now - another box ticked.  I also did the Nevis Arc:  The world's highest canyon swing - tame by comparison, but perhaps more fun!
4/11Took my long and final bus ride in NZ from Queenstown to Christchurch on a very windy day.  Stopped at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, which were both beautiful and bright blue/turquoise.  Had a quick walk around Christchurch, which - again - is very reminiscent of home; sort of Cambridge-esque.  They even have a red phone box and a statue of Queen Victoria.
5/11Took a leisurely stroll around Christchurch city centre, including the main park, the museum and the modern art gallery.  It felt very peaceful and clean.  They celebrate Guy Fawkes night in NZ too, so we went to see the fireworks at New Brighton Pier, which were great!  However, it descended in mood a bit when some kids let off fireworks accross the crowds - not funny and definitely not clever.
6/11AUSTRALIA — Flew from Christchurch to Sydney and a connecting flight to Alice Springs in the 'Red Centre' of Australia.  I took a walk around Christchurch, including some aboriginal art galleries, the Anzac Hill Memorial and the Reptile Centre.  There's not much else here.  My bank card has been declined: not in Guatamala or Bolivia - no - in Australia!  Luckily I carry a back-up card from a different bank.
7/11Started my two day tour of the Red Centre with a long drive and a walk around Kings Canyon.  Had my first glimpse of Uluru (Ayers Rock) and saw the sun set over Kata Tjuta.  Saw my first dingo.  Ate 3 steaks - yum!  Settled down to sleep out under the stars in the desert.
8/11Woke early to see the sun rise light-up Uluru.  Took a walk round the big rock itself, which was more impressive than I was expecting - after all, it is just a big rock in the desert.  We didn't climb the rock itself - firstly because it is sacred to the Aborigines, but moreover because it was closed due to high winds and excessive temperature (38C).  Took a walk around Kata Tjuta (Valley of the winds)
9/11Flew from Alice Springs back to Sydney and checked-in to the Sydney Central YHA.  Had a couple of 'roo burgers - quite nice actually - a cross between chicken and beef.
10/11Had a relaxing day walking around Sydney.  Started off by visiting the Chinese Garden of Friendship and up through Darling Harbour to The Rocks for my first glimpses of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.  Took a dip in the roof-top swimming pool and watched a movie (The Village) in the hostel's cinema - a bit more upmarket than most other backpacker haunts.
11/11Did another day around Sydney including Hyde Park, the Museum of Contemporary Art (a bit dissapointing apart from a 'Ghost Train' and a 'Curtain of Rain') and the Royal Botanic Gardens - I loved the fruit bats there!  I went to see 'Concord' by The Australian Ballet at Sydney Opera House, which was OK, but dance obviously isn't my favourite artistic genre.
12/11Went to Bondi Beach: not to swim or surf, but to do the coastal walk from there to Bronte.  More specifically, I went to see the 'Sculpture by the Sea' exhibition of over 100 works of art.  It was absolutely brilliant!  Probably the best set of public space art that I have seen in ages :-)  Oh ... and the scenery provided by mother nature was pretty nice too!
13/11Took the ferry to Manly and did the Manly Scenic walk, which is pretty much what it says on the tin.  Walked through some more of the Royal Botanic gardens and saw the funky fruit bats again - they are great!  Had a quick look around the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has some reasonable stuff in it and was worth the visit.  I'm now about to get on a bus for 13½ hours to Byron Bay.
14/11Did the walk around the Cape Byron Lighthouse and the rocks and beaches.  Went for a swim in the sea off Main Beach and I can now see why so many people come here: long white sandy beaches and plenty of sun and surf.  Took in a didgeridoo concert with a modern twist (including a cover of a Chemical Brothers song) at night: very funky
15/11Explored central Brisbane today, including the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Art Gallery and the Queensland Museum.  I took a stroll along the South Bank, which really did remind me of ours in London ... except that we don't have city beach :-(  I finished off walking around the Botanic Gardens and am now very knackered.
16/11Had a day at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo.  Got to pet a Koala, stroke a Kangaroo and feed an elephant, as well as watch the crocodile show at the 'Crocaseum'.  The best bit was probably the Sumatra Tigers playing with the keepers in the pool and seeing them swim under water.
17/11Had a stressful day after a booking that I made for a 4x4 camping safari on Fraser Island and a sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands went wrong, and I consequently had to put my flight from Cairns to Singapore back from 27th November to 2nd December.  My 6 hour coach ride from Brisbane to Hervey Bay was late, so I missed my transfer and had to pay for a taxi to my hostel, whose reception had shut!  Grrr!
18/11Spent the day relaxing by the pool in 40 degree heat and glorious sunshine.  I met my group for the 3-day 4x4 camping safari trip at our briefing, then we got all our supplies together and eventually went down the pub for an initial bonding session.  I've got 4 Canadians, 2 Irish, 2 Welsh and 1 German with me.
19/114x4 Safari on Fraser Island - Day 1: Had our final briefing, packed the truck and took the barge across to Wanggoolba Creek on Fraser Island.  Lack of rain meant we got stuck several times, but digging youselves out is half the fun!  Swam in Lake McKenzie, which was stunning.  Had a BBQ and beers at camp.  Saw the most amazing meteorite streak across the sky and burn-up in the atmosphere:  INCREDIBLE!!!
20/114x4 Safari on Fraser Island - Day 2: Saw the sun rise accompanied by a pack of dingos howling on the beach.  Walked to Lake Garawongera and had a swim.  Drove along the beach to Indian Head, which offered some great views of the island and the beaches.  Saw some Eagle Rays and Turtles from the cliff-tops.  Stopped at the Maheno Wreck on the way to Eli Creek, which we walked through.  More drinking games!
21/114x4 Safari on Fraser Island - Day 3: Went to Lake McKenzie again because it was so nice and had another swim before getting the barge back over to to the mainland.  Luckily they didn't take our bond off us for bending the rear bumper.  Hand fed some possums at night.
22/11Spent the day relaxing by the pool back at the hostel again in 40 degree sunshine.  Got on the nightbus for the 12+1/2 hour ride from Hervey Bay to Airlie Beach.
23/11Spent the day relaxing by the lagoon in Airlie Beach. Went for a few beers at night with a couple of guys I met in New Zealand on the Kiwi Experience after randomly bumping into them on the bus last night.
24/11Two days relaxing by the lagoon in Airlie Beach.
26/11Maxi Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands - Day 1:  Boarded the Anaconda II with about 20 others plus 3 crew for a 3-day live-aboard cruise.  Sailed mainly on wind power under sunny skies (with a few clouds for the odd welcome respite) in 30+ degree heat.  Visited Langford Island where we snorkelled and then on to South Molle Island to see the sunset from the hilltop before a late night of drinking games.
27/11Maxi Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands - Day 2:  Woke early, but did a lot of snoozing in the sunshine on another perfect day for sailing.  Went to Tongue Bay and hiked across the Island (all of about 10 minutes) to take in the views over Whitehaven Beach where we swam and played beach games.  Sailed to Cateran Bay for a bit more snorkelling followed by yet more drinking games on the deck.
28/11Maxi Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands - Day 3:  Started the day with another snorkel around Nara Inlet, but there were a LOT of jelly-fish-like creatures, although the coral and fish were still very pretty.  Sailed around Blue Pear Bay and then headed back to Airlie Beach for a fairwell drink and then boarded the nightbus to Cairns (with a very shitty Greyhound driver!)
29/11Took an early morning (7am) swim in Cairns Lagoon, followed by a 2.5km walk along the Esplanade.  I then walked and across the Rainforest Boardwalk to Centenary Lakes and around Cairns Botanic Gardens.  I then (somewhat sadistically in the searing heat) did the full 9km trek around the Mount Whitfield Environmental Park.  That's about 15km walking in total!
30/11Took a full-day cruise around the Great Barrier Reef on a catamaran: Tusa Five.  Did 3 dives on the reef: 2 locations around the 'Wild Side' of Saxon Reef and one on the 'Wild Side' of Hastings Reef.  The coral was amazing (as you'd expect) and I also saw some massive Giant Clams, a Hawksbill Turtle and the 'Much Desired Flabalina'.  I also went round the Regional Art Gallery, but it wasn't up to much.

1/12Hitch-hiked to Paronella Park, which was pretty cool: a Spanish man's folly castle and grounds, now semi-derilict, but being preserved.  It took me 3 lifts there (20m, 10m + 10m waits) and 3 back (40m, 15m + 5m waits), which was fine.  Hitch-hiking in Australia has taken a real nose-dive in recent years after the serial killer attacks (by Ivan Robert Marko Milat), which a couple of the drivers mentioned.
2/12SINGAPORE — — Went to check in for my flight from Cairns to Singapore, but couldn't because I didn't have onward transport, so I had to get online to book a bus to Malaysia and email it to the airline ... major pain!  Anyway, my hostel in Singapore is ace.  Excellent service: cold beer in a cold glass and the waitress kept refilling me when I was getting close to the bottom and even brought me ice to cool it down - heaven!
3/12Did a bit of temple hopping in Little India and Chinatown in Singapore.  Had a curry with the works and a drink for a little over 3 quid :-)  Experienced my first bit of monsoon rain - a bit tame really.  Did the night safari at Singapore Zoo: fantastic - especially the bat walk ... and the shows were pretty entertaining too.
4/12had another marathon day walking around Singapore.  I went to Merlion Park, the Asian Civilisations Museum, Raffles, The Battle Box (with a guided tour of the comand bunker of the British army and the story of their eventual surrender against the Japanese in WWII), the National Museum and the Singapore Art Museum, which has some excellent exhibits in fantastic buildings combining new and old.
5/12MALAYSIA — — Caught the bus from Singapore across the border into Malaysia to visit Melaka.  I took a random walk around the streets near my hostel (Jalan-Jalan) in the afternoon/evening and discovered upon my return (to my guidebook) that I had seen most of the sights of the town by chance.  Chinatown is very relaxing with some cool temples.  I love Kung Pao chicken!
6/12Took a leisurely stroll around Melaka today to re-visit the best temples (inc. Cheng Hoon Teng) and soak-up the atmosphere.  At night, I went to the street stage area on the corner of Jl Tukang and Jl Hang Jebat.  They do public karaoke there to a crowd of about 1 or 2 hundred people.  They obviously don't do any screening of the participants before they get on stage to sing and/or dance - very humorous!
7/12Took the Melaka River Cruise, although there wasn't much to see.  Went to the Villa Sentosa Museum (which was essentially just some old guy's house, but he was very welcoming and informative) and the Baba & Nonya Heritage Museum (along similar lines, but more impressive).  Finished re-reading the book - thanks yet again Allen!  Went bowling at night.
8/12Explored Kuala Lumpur at lightning pace with a couple of French guys who only had the afternoon, visiting: Sri Maha Mariamman Temple (under restoration), Old KL Railway Station, National Mosque, Dataran Merdeka, Jamek Mosque, KL Tower and the Petronas Towers (outside only).  Had beers on the roof terrace watching the footy at night.
9/12Went up the Petronas Towers and walked across the Sky Bridge that connects them, half way up on the 41st floor - very scary!  Went to the Batu Caves to see the world's tallest (42.7m) statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity.  Climbed the 272 steps to reach Cathedral Cave.  Moved to a different hostel because I didn't like the fish in the entrance of the place last night - one was so big it couldn't turn in its tank.
10/12Had a very relaxing day, starting with a lie-in.  I ditched the map and navigated by local landmarks (there are plenty of iconic tall buildings around KL) to the Lake Gardens.  I walked around a couple of the garden areas and then spent a few chilled hours reading a book (Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury) by the main lake.
11/12Took the LRT to Titiwangsa Station (ahm!), caught the bus to Jerantut, got a taxi to Kuala Tembeling to catch the ferry for a 3 hour cruise up the Sungai Tembelling river (saw water buffalo) to Kuala Tahan in the Taman Negara national park.  Did a 4x4 night tour and saw 2 wild cats, 2 ring-tailed foxes, 3 owls, 2 baby wild pigs, 1 flying squirrel and 1 red squirrel-type thing among other creatures.
12/12Did the creaky canopy walkway in the morning (3km return trip), which bizarrely didn't set-off my fear of heights.  In the afternoon I did the 11km (5h 45m) hike from Kuala Tahan to Bumbun Tabing hide by myself.  I set off too late though and it was getting dark by the time I arrived and I got quite scared by the jungle noises, especially wild pigs.  I could have easily got lost and become a statistic!
13/12We (me, 2 Basque Countrymen + 1 German) didn't really see any wildlife at all from our hide last night.  We had a cheeky squirrel come and nick some of our food in the morning though.  However, the 12km jungle trek back was exciting: we crossed a 20m-wide river through waist-deep water because the bridge was down, we crossed other rivers via fallen trees, and we got covered in leaches - very Indiana Jones!
14/12Did a mere 5km trek to the Gua Telinga cave system.  I was in bat heaven! There were thousands of the cute little things all squeaking away and flying around me so close that I could feel the breeze from their wings flapping.  To get in I had to crawl through tight gaps in the rock, along a stream and across lots of guan0 - very Tomb Raider!  Saw a very scary-looking spider protecting her nest on the way out.
15/12Took the boat back from Kuala Tahan to Kuala Tembeling (2 hours - downstream), got a minibus to Jerantut and caught the 'jungle train' through the mountains to Gua Musang.  I could have taken buses and done this all (slightly) cheaper and quicker, but I really love boats and trains because you can take in the views so much better: the scenery is really beautiful!  Except Gua Musang: there is nothing here.
16/12Missed the (only) minibus from Gua Musang to Tanah Rata this morning, so I spent the day catching-up with emails, back-ups, shopping and reading.  I am virtually the only tourist here, to the extent that one guy said hello to me with the cry: "Welcome white man!".  I ordered some soup at a Chinese restaurant, but I got noodles of some variety.  When I queried what it was, the guy said "It good for you!"
17/12I called the agency to check which bus station I should be at, to be informed that there was no minibus from Gua Musang to Tanah Rata today, so the lady suggested: "You get taxi!".  Hmmm.  I am now going to have to skip the Cameron Highlands due to time.  I took a walk round the mini-mountains at the edge of Gua Musang: very picturesque!
18/12I'm sick of trying to get where I want to go in Malaysia!  I caught the early (6:26am) jungle train from Gua Musang to Wakaf Baharu to try to get to Penang in 1 day.  I shan't bore you with the details of my 4 hour futile detour into the realms of pointlessness, but suffice to say that I wasn't a happy bunny and I've now booked an 'executive' night bus night-bus just to get out of the Kota Bharu travel-trap from hell!
19/12Arrived in Butterworth at 4am and got the ferry accross to Georgetown, but after I checked-in to the hostel I realised that I had left my sleeping bag on the coach - doh!  Had a few hours kip before exploring some of the temples around the city.  Watched a bit of the motorbike racing - The Petronas Sprintaround - around Padang Kota Lama.
20/12Did a bit more temple hopping, inc. the Goddess of Mercy Temple, Khoo Kongsi, Hainan Temple and Kaiptan Keling Mosque.  I also took the guided tour around Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the camp-chinese host was very entertaining!  Saw Avatar at the cinema: an excellent film (even for a PG13)!
21/12Went to Snake Temple, which was a bit dissapointing considering how long it took to get there.  However, Kek Lok Si Temple, inc. the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas and the 30.2m Kuan Yin bronze statue was definitely worth the trek out of the city.  I am loving my $2 curries in Little India!
22/12THAILAND — Finally got my sleeping bag back after the 5th attempt!  Took a minibus from Georgetown (a.k.a. Penang), Malaysia to Surat Thani, Thailand.  My ticket was for all the way to Koh Tao but they gave me some cash-back and said to buy my own ticket at the ferry terminal and then the driver tried to kick me out in central Surat Thani, but I insisted on being taken right to Ban Don Pier to catch the night-ferry.
23/12Met a Brit called Mark on the night-ferry to Koh Tao and we found a cheap place to stay whilst we recce'd the island.  We had some beers and went to see some Muay Thai fighting in Sairee Village at night.  A few of them were definitely staged endings, even though most of the fighting itself was real.  It was a good experience though and we were able to watch it right from the ringside.
24/12Did a couple of dives today.  I saw 4 Bull Sharks at Chumphon, which was brilliant: my first ever shark sighting!  The visibility wasn't great, so it was quite eerie to see them swim in and out of sight.  The visibility was better at Twins, with more coral and lots of smaller tropical fish.  Tried to meet Victoria & Oli at night, but failed.  Saw fireworks at Saireee Beach instead, which was cool
25/12Did another couple of dives - a great way to spend Christmas day!  Saw another 4 Bull Sharks at Chumphon.  Tavor was another great sight with better visibility and good coral and fish count.  Had a lovely pizza for Christmas dinner - yum!  Eventually met-up with Victoria and Oli et al, which was fantastic!  It didn't even seem weird to see friends from after 8 months away.
26/12Had a bit of a lie-in and eventually went to meet Vooky & Oli at Freedom Beach.  Oli and I took a kayak out and did a bit of snorkelling at Chalok Baan Kao.  A very pleasant form of exercise!  We all watched the sunset together and then I went back for dinner with Mark and his dive course buddies before I headed-off for a much needed early night.
27/12Watched a couple of movies in bed, then had a filling replaced and my hair cut - whoopie doo!  Watched the sunset on the beach with a beer ... then another ... and another ...
28/12Dove 2 new sites: South West Rocks and Leuk.  My air consumption has now improved to the extent that it is becoming frustrating to dive with people who use too much and restrict the dive times.
29/12Took the morning ferry from Koh Tao to meet J in Surat Thani: welcome to Thailand buddy!  We had a few beers by Ban Don Pier before getting back on the ferry for the night-crossing back to Koh Tao.  That made a total of 14 hours on the ferry for me.
30/12Arrived back in koh Tao with J and a hangover!  Laid on the beach to recover with a beer - schweet :
31/12Dived Chumpon again and saw 3 more Bull Sharks!  One guy in my group had been there 6 times and never seen one (including today when I was only a few metres from him) and yet I have a 3 out of 3 hit rate!  Also dived at Twin Peaks where the visibility was much better.  Saw Vooky & Oli in the evening in Chalok Baan Kao before heading back to see J at Sairee Beach for the fireworks and party into 2010.

1/1Had another hangover day, getting out of bed at 1pm (after arriving in bed at about 5 or 6 am).  Spent the nursing my head on the beach in the sun and warm seas.
2/1Dived at South West Rocks and Shark Island again.  Lots of tropical fish and large shoals of bigger fish in much better visibility - very nice!  Those are dives 51 and 52 for me: I'm loving it, but the wallet isn't (even though it's only about 14GBP per dive here on Koh Tao).
3/1Had a lie in and eventually went to the beach for a few hours.  It started to rain(!?), so we went for a drink and a meal, but a couple of hours later I noticed that I had been robbed!  Some bar-steward had unzipped my bag and stolen my dry-sack with my camera and mobile phone, etc. in it without me noticing, even though I had it with me the whole time!  Saw Vookey and Oli later though, which cheered me up.
4/1Went to the police to report my stolen camera and phone (etc.) and they were not polite about it - they even charged me for the report (OK, it was only 50 Baht = 1 GBP).  Spent the rest of the day on the beach with J and got slightly sunburnt: J was as red as a lobster!
5/1Took the ferry from Koh Tao to Chumphon, which was late so we (J and I) missed the train and had to get a bus to Bangkok that got in just before midnight.  We checked-in to our hotel and went for a for a few well-deserved beers on Soi Chana-songkhram.
6/1Went to the Mahboonkrong (MBK) shopping centre to buy a replacement camera: the G11 as they have stopped selling the G10.  Went with J to see some Muay Thai fights at the Ratchadamnoen boxing stadium and had some great street food (again!).
7/1Visited Wat Pho and saw the country's largest reclining Buddha (46m long - 15m High) in the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok.  Went for dinner in Chinatown and had a couple of beers at Vertigo on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel: absolutely amazing views of the city at night!
8/1Took the river boat down Mae Nam Chao Phraya and got off to see the supposed flower market, which was actually a vegetable market.  It was very pretty though and it felt like a trip back in time.  We also went to see the Temple of Dawn (I so wish it was called the Temple of Doom!) before some fairwell drinks with J.
9/1Took the river boat up Mae Nam Chao Phraya to see the Vimanmek Mansion, which was very nice, but nothing spectacular.  Said goodbye to J - hope you like the weather back in England mate!  Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
10/1Had a leisurely day walking around some of the back streets of Bangkok.  I took in some of the smaller sights including the City Pillar Shrine, the Giant Swing and the Democracy Monument.
11/1Went to see the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew and also walked around the grounds of the Grand Palace.  It is a truly beautiful complex and definitely the best thing that I have seen so far in SE Asia.
12/1Spent the day finishing off the main sights in Bangkok. Loha Prasat is pretty cool, but the site is still under restoration.  City Parapet Phrakan Fortess isn't up to much, but the Golden Mount was worth the hike up.  Wat Benchamaborphit has very pleasant grounds to perambulate.  The Exhibition of Masterpieces at the Anantasamakhon Throne Hall was quite small, but the models were impressive.
13/1Did a few boring admin jobs (post, purchasing Malaria drugs, etc.) before catching the train from Hualampong Station in Bangkok to the former capital city of Ayutthaya.  Took in a couple of Wats during the sunset.
14/1Walked around about a dozen wats in Ayutthaya.  Most of them are ruins though because the city was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767, but the area is now a UNESCO World heritage site.  I did the sunset river boat tour around the island to see a few more wats in the evening, which is 'the thing to do' here, but I much prefer jungle river trips.
15/1Took the train again from Ayutthaya to Pak Chong. I went on an afternoon/sunset jeep tour around the outskirts of Khao Yai National Park.  We saw some large spiders in some caves, which was pretty cool.  However, the best thing was the bats ... between 1 and 2 million of them!!!  They come streaming out of a hillside cave at dusk, just like in the documentaries. I was in bat heavan again!
16/1Got up at 6am to do a full day tour around Khao Yai National Park.  Our guide was great and managed to find us some Gibbons in the tree-tops after hearing them from the jeep, some 100m+ away.  The Macaque monkeys were much more in your face, coming right up to within a couple of metres.  Also saw some hornbills, deer and a toutoise, but sadly no elephants - just their dung trails!  Plus waterfalls.
17/1Based myself in Nakhon Ratchasima (a.k.a. Khorat) and did a day trip to the Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung temple ruins.  It's supposedly Thailand's most impressive Angkor monument and they are pretty cool, but this is mainly because of their location: on top of a hill with great views of the countryside.  A cute little Japanese girl came up to me and said "I want to make a photo with you" - doh! - but I obliged.
18/1Got up early for my train from Khorat to Khon Kaen to be told that the timetable I picked-up yesterday was wrong and I could have had another hour in bed!  Lonely Planet said that there was only one tourist attraction in the city, so I did the other 3!  Climbed one cool temple that had 9 stories.  Took another train up to Udon Thani and then a bus to the border town of Nong Khai.
19/1Cycled along the Mekong River front, taking in some of the little wats along the way.  Visited the sculpture park in the grounds of Wat Sala Kaeo Ku.  It has some mental-looking concrete statues of Hindu and Buddhist figures built by Luang Poo Boun Leua Sourirat, a Laotian artist-turned-spiritual guru.  Did the sunset riverboat cruise at night, which was nice, but therte is not much else to see along the shores.
20/1Walked around a few of the streets in Nong Khai and got my boots mended for 20 new pence (but I gave him 40p)!  I took a leisurely stroll around the lakes of Nong Thin Park (peaceful, but not overly beautiful) and read a bit of my current book: The Meaning of the Glorious Koran.  I also went for a beer down on to Jomanee Beach (dry season only: January to June) and watched the locals play beach football.
21/1LAOS — Woke up to rain this morning, so I crossed the border from Nong Khai in Thailand over the First Thais-Laos Friendship Bridge and arrived in Vientiane (a.k.a. Viang Chan) in Laos.  It is raining here too!  Even so, it was nice to have a cold Beerlao overlooking the mighty Mekong.
22/1Stunned by the fact that it's still raining: it's not meant to do this here at this time of year!  I went to the Lao National History Museum, mainly because it's dry.  I then got into my rain gear and cycled round the city to see the sights: Patuxai (Victory Gate), Wat Si Saket (the oldest temple in Vientiane) and its amazing wall niches with 2,000+ buddhas, plus Pha That Luang (Lao's National Monument).
23/1Took a local bus to Xieng Khuan (a.k.a. Buddha Park) which has over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues.  It was built by the same guy (Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat) who made the other sculpture park that I visited in Nong Khai (Sala Keoku) a few days ago in Thailand.  This one isn't quite as big or impressive, but it is still worth going to see.
24/1Got a bus to Vang Vieng and checked-in to Thavisouk Bungalows: the restaurant there has excellent views over the Mekong river and the beautiful jagged mountains behind.  Met a British lady who was travelling with her two daughters - very lucky kids!
25/1Did a tour which included Elephant cave: it has a limestone formation in it that looks 'vaguely' like an elephant - hmmm!  At another cave we rode inner-tubes about 500m into the mountain on an underground river, which was surprisingly big: great fun!  We then kayaked down the Mekong, stopping at a couple of the bars.  I met another lady travelling with her daughters today, but this one had three of them!
26/1Explored a few of the limestone caves around town by bike.  Everybody's trying to make a buck along the way: for the bridge, the caves and guides.  The kids were very good though: they were worth the few thousand Kip each.  Today I bumped into the lady travelling with her 2 girls and we then bumped into the other lady travelling with her 3 girls.  Me and 7 ladies, standing in the street, with my reputation!?
27/1Did the 'tubing' down the Mekong for which Vang Vieng has become famous.  It really is great fun - just floating gently along the river, visiting all the bars for a few beers, some of the local whiskey and the speciality teas.  I did quite a few of the giant swings, zip-lines and water slides: scary, but a fantastic adrenaline rush!
28/1Took a minibus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang and did a quick scout around the city.  It seems very pleasant!  I watched the sunset over the Mekong river (again) whilst chatting with some humourously stereotypical loud Americans at a restaurant.
29/1Crossed the river to see the temples on the other side: Ban Xieng Maen, Wat Com Phet, Wat Long Khun and Wat Tham Xieng Maen.  At Wat Com Phet a cute little local girl showed me a mini traditional dance that she had learned.  It was one of those charming experiences that you can only have in a country like Laos!  The label of 'cave temple' for Wat Tham Xieng Maen needs to be taken with a pinch of salt though.
30/1Went to the Royal Palace Museum.  I also climbed Mount Phu Si to see the Buddha Footprint and the temples there: Wat Pa Huak, That Chomsi, Wat Tham Phu Si and Wat Thammothayalan.  I don't like one of the Buddhist rituals here, which is to buy baby birds and release them as an offering.  This means that thousands of these poor creatures are bred in captivity and spend many days in tiny cages.
31/1Finished-off most of the Wats in Luang Prabang.  I crossed the rickety bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river to stroll around the dirt streets of the village on the other side.  Tonight will be my final piss-up ... ever

1/2Had the hangover of all hangovers and eventually got out of bed, just in time for the night market to get some pork noodle soup before heading straight back to bed again.  Thank god that's the last hangover I'll ever have!  [Cheers for a good laugh on my last night of drinking Colin!  Nico - I hope that you join me on the light side soon buddy!]
2/2Took a day trip to see the Kuang Si water falls.  Not quite as extensive as Agua Azul in Mexico, but it has a more intimate feel with much of the jungle still intact.  The bear rescue sanctuary there was actually quite reasonable: the bears had a reasonable amount of space to roam about in with lots of food/toys and they seemed to be playing happily.
3/2Got a minibus across the windy little mountain-top roads from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan (7 hours).  Managed to assemble a group of 9 new people and organised a tour of the Plain of Jars together for tomorrow.
4/2Visited a 'real' Hamong village for once: no souvenirs for sale, no-one speaking English and we were stared at for being falang.  The children were initially shy, yet very playful after I taught them how to 'High-5'!  The downside: a lonely looking pet capuchin monkey!*#*!  Trekked to a secluded waterfall and had a barbecue.  Managed to avoid the UXO (unexpolded ordnance) at the Plain of Jars - Site 1.
5/2Had a sleepless night fretting about the lonely capuchin monkey I met yesterday.  I cancelled my bus ticket, rented a motorbike, bought some items from the market and rode to the village (30km).  But when I got there I found a happy monkey with all his 'family' back in the village after work/school.  After seeking permission from its owner, I played with the monkey for an hour, after which we exchanged gifts.
6/2Dealing with an eye infection!  I spent some more time with the pet monkey in Tajok, gaining its trust.  After seeking permission from his owner, I rigged-up a runner made from steel cable, clamps and renforcing wire.  I put a new belt on the monkey and crafted a new rope and lock system, enabling me to supplant the neck restraint previously in use.  My work observed by many of the villagers.
7/2Rode to Jars Site 2 (Ban Nakho), Tad Lang Waterfall & Jars Site 3 (Ban Xieng Di).  I bought some better equipment and returned to Tajok.  I was unsurprised to find the man had put the monkey back on his old rope system because the rope was coiling-up.  The new rope in conjunction with his existing swivel neck restraint sufficed to enable the monkey to be successfully let free on the runner with no tangling.
8/2Had my most fun bus journey yet on the 12hr ride from Phonsavan to Paksan, inc. high mountain passes, sheer drop-offs, dust tracks, mud tracks, fords, more twists and turns than you could shake a stick at and miles of bumps more suited to 4x4's (yet our bus had to tow a 4x4 up one incline).  We had to swerve for cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, cows, frogs, water buffalo and laid-back Laos people.
9/2Caught a local bus - complete with rooster crowing - from Paksan to Savannakhet.  I explored the historic quarter by foot, visiting a few of the wats and their somewhat sad and humourous attempt at an Olympic stadium.  It is a not so impressive, but quaint (read: crumbling) and somewhat typical Laos town.  The Mekong is getting big down here!
10/2Explored the rest of Savannakhet.  Tried to do the Old Museum, but it has been sold off to become a hotel and the New Museum was 'Not Open'.  I went to the Dinosaur Museum, but that was just one room and the curator wasn't there to give any explanations.  I decided that it was time to get out of town, so I caught the bus to Pakse.
11/2Rented a motorbike to see 3 of the waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau.  I swam under Yuang Waterfall, which was warmer than I expected.  Tad Fane Waterfall is probably the highest I have ever seen and it's amazing how it crashes into sheer-sided, self-created pit.  Than Chan Pee Waterfall was amazing just before sunset as the light came directly up the valley to bring out the colours of the rocks behind.
12/2Took a boat from Pakse to Champasak along the Mekong for my birthday treat!  I rented a bike and toured the sleepy villages along the river front with a couple of lovely Portuguese girls.  We continued on to Wat Phu Champasak, which is billed as the most impressive archeological site in Laos and I would agree.  The different levels of the temple complex plus the lakes make for an impressive view from the top.
13/2Caught a couple of boats and a bus from Champasak to Don Det, one of the Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don).  Unfortunately I met another couple of pet monkeys, but - again - they appeared to be well fed and well treated, aside from being tied by relatively short ropes to trees.  We rented some tubes for a relaxing float down the river - very Laos!
14/2Cycled from Don Det Island to Don Kohn Island.  We hired a boat from Ban Hang Khon to take us out dolphin spotting.  We got lucky and saw quite a few of the rare Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins all around us!  After a quick swim we cycled on to Tat Somphamit waterfall, which was very impressive: fast jets of water rushing through channels on many levels of jagged rocks as far as the eye could see.
15/2Had a lazy day that started with a late breakfast before another slow tube ride down the Mekong.  Lunch tired me out so I decided to laze all afternoon in a haze in the hammock in front of my bungalow, soaking-up the sights and sounds of the river: children playing and fishing; ducks and their ducklings floating by, and some locals passing by in their boats.  Life is just so stressful here!
16/2CAMBODIA — Caught a boat and a bus from Four Thousand Islands, crossed the border from Laos into Cambodia   ($1 for this, $23 for the visa, another $1 for that...), changed buses and got in to Phnom Penh in time for dinner out.
17/2Visited the 'Killing Fields' of Choeung Ek.  The memorial houses 9,000 skulls of the approx. 17,000 people executed there by the Khmer Rouge who committed genocide of an estimated 3 million people in the 1970's.  The bits of bone sticking out of the ground give only a small idea of the shocking reality.  The Tuol Sleng Museum - an old school turned into a torture camp and prison - gave more sickening detail.
18/2Went to see the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda complex here in Phnom Penh, and I was surprised to find that it rivals the Grand Palace in Bangkok for size and grandeur (well, almost !).  I checked-out of the "Fairyland Guest House" and caught the bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.  I did not partake of the crickets and other bugs on sale at the market en-route.
19/2Hired a guide and a tuk-tuk driver and did the small/inner-circuit of the Temples of Angkor, inc. Angkor Thom, Baphuon, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, plus the piece de resistance: Angkor Wat !  The most impressive thing about the area is the sheer number of temples with large grounds.  It definitely met the high expectations that had been ingrained in me !  The guide wasn't really necessary though.
20/2Hired a different tuk-tuk driver by myself today so that I could go on a personal photo safari of a random assortment of the Temples of Angkor, inc. the Roluos Group, Banteay Samre, Eastern Mebon and Pre Rup, plus Ta Prohm (again) for a series of 'Tomb Raider' shots - great fun !  Could have done with a bit more sunshine for the photos though.
21/2Ended-up with a friend of a friend of yesterday's tuk-tuk driver and did the large/outer-circuit of the Temples of Angkor, inc. Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean, Ta Som, Eastern Mebon (again), Pre Rup (again), Angkor Wat (again) and Phnom Bakheng.  It was good to re-visit some of the temples and really soak-up the Tomb-Raider feeling, especially Angkor Wat, which I found much more impressive second time round.
22/2Took a boat from Siem Reap to Battanbang, which passes over Lake Tonle Sap and finishes up the Stung Sangker River.  The propeller and rudder broke on departure and had to be welded back on, plus they were constantly having to repair the water pump, so it turned a 6 hour journey into a 12 hour epic 'experience'.  Waving at all the smiley kids in the floating villages never ceased to amuse me though.
23/2Had a leisurely stroll around Battambang: not much to do apart from 'people watching' really.  The 'bamboo railway' is now a really rubbish and overpriced tourist attraction, so we skipped it.  Took the dusty road to Phnom Sampeau temple on top of a hill.  We got a really cool kid for a guide ($1 + tip) and he took us to see another bat cave with millions streaming out at sunset:  I returned to 'bat heavan' !
24/2Woke up early and took another stroll around town and the disused railway tracks in the morning sun.  I am still amused by all the ladies who wear pyjamas as regular day clothes !  Saw 5 people on 1 moto (motorbike).  I caught the locals bus (I was the only tourist on board) from Battambang to Phnom Penh and sorted-out my visa and boat ticket to Vietnam for the day after tomorrow.
25/2Did about 8 hours walking around Phnom Penh, just soaking-up the Cambodian atmosphere for the last time.  I took in the Independence Monument, the Cambodian & Vietnam Friendship Monument and the Olympic Stadium, among other things.  I particularly enjoyed watching the monkeys around Wat Phnom; an old lady there was feeding them and she seemed to know them all individually.
26/2VIETNAM — Had a final walk around town and stalked a few monks to get some close-up piccies.  Took a boat from Phnom Penh, crossed the border from Cambodia into Vietnam and docked in Chau Doc.  The kids here are just as enthusiastic in waving at us tourists in our floating reverse-human-zoo.  However, some of the boys seem to have decided that the 'in thing' to do is pull their shorts down and point to their willy !
27/2Cycled around Chau Doc and up to Nui Sam mountain.  They put on a Chinese dragon dance for me at the temple there ... and I hadn't even told them that I was coming - how sweet of them !  I also dropped in on the town's 'Second Annual Sculpture Symposium' - not exactly any Henry Moore's, but some very good works nonetheless.  Caught a bus from Chau Doc to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC - f.k.a Saigon)
28/2Walked around Saigon, including the very pretty Cong Vien Van Hoa Park with it's ornamental gardens, topiary and marble sculptures - very nice !  The Reunification Palace was reasonably impressive, especially considering the 60's architecture and the inevitable over-use of concrete.  The War Remnants Museum had some excellent exhibitions that got my eyes watering — war really is a very bad thing !
1/3Went to the Cu Chi Tunnels and saw how the Viet Cong hid, survived and ambushed American soldiers during the Vietnam war.  There are about 250km of tunnels in the network: I 'walked' through them for about 5 or 10 minutes before conceding in pain (they are tiny).  Fired an M16 - loved it !  Dodged more motorcycles in Saigon.  The Post Office has much more impressive architecture than Notre Dame Cathedral.
2/3Visited a few more of the pagodas around Saigon: Giac Lam, Giac Vien, Phuoc An Hoi Quan, Quan Am and Thien Hau.  They are all pretty old and interesting looking in a kind of Chinese Temple / Gremlins type way.  However, if I spend too much longer in them, then I will die of lung cancer from all the joss sticks they burn!  Caught the night train from HCMC to Nha Trang.
3/3Spent the day relaxing on the beach in Nha Trang. The beachfront has got 6 km of golden sand ... and I walked no more than 60 metres of it !  It was a pleasant mix of sun and relieving cloud, especially considering the fact that it's well over 30 degrees here - sigh !
4/3Took a boat trip to cruise around 4 of the Islands: Mun, Mot, Mieu and Tranh.  The aquarium is built out of concrete, but made to look like a pirate ship: it was a pretty cool sight ... in a cheesy kind of way.  However, just like zoos, I don't like seeing fish couped-up like that.  The crew's live music and improvised instruments was fantastic though - the guy really should be on MTV !
5/3Did a couple of dives around Mun Island.  Saw a few beautiful squid at Moray Beach and saw at least 4 different types of clownfish / anemonefish (i.e. Nemo fish) at Pipe Beach.  Got lucky with visibility up to 25m (normally only about 10-15m), but unfortunately it was too cloudy for great photos.
6/3Did yet another couple of dives around Mun Island.  There were some cool shoals of fish off Small Wall/Fisherman's Bay and some very long seahorses along Moray Beach.  Took the night train from Nha Trang to Danang and a transfer by minibus to Hoi An.
7/3Perambulated the streets of Hoi An Old Town.  It costs 90,000 dong ($4.50) just to get into the town as a tourist ... and the ticket only covers you for ONE of 3 old houses, ONE of 4 museums, etc.  Yes, it is all very pretty with winding lanes and well preserved Oriental and European architecture from a century or more ago.  However, it is just one big tourist market as far as I am concerned !
8/3Took a tour bus (but ignored the tour guide) to the Cham ruins of My Son - yet another UNESCO World Heritage site !  It's not exactly Angkor Wat, but the complex has a definite charm about it, being set in woodland with little streams meandering through it and some pretty hills as a backdrop.  I took a final walk around the tourist heavan and backpacker hell that is Hoi An before taking a bus to Hue.
9/3Took a cruise down the Song Huong (Perfume River) in the pouring rain.  [I took the weather as training for my return home in 5 weeks' time.]  Visited Thien Mu Pagoda, Ming Mang Tomb, Khai Dinh Tomb and Tu Duc Tomb.  The landscaping of the grounds and the oriental inspired architecture of the tombs was beautiful.  The tour included a martial arts display and incense stick making.  Which is worth a miss !
10/3Crossed the Song Huong to explore Hue's Citadel (Kinh Thanh) ... in the pouring rain !  Luckily the weather kept the crowds away and I had a peaceful time exploring the war battered ceremonial halls within the moated grounds.  Caught the night train from Hue to Hanoi: some beautiful countryside, compete with peasants toiling in the paddy fields.
11/3Visited Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple in the middle of Haon Kiem Lake - nothing special.  Endured some hassles getting my visa initiated for Myanmar (Burma).  After multiple sets of erroneous directions trying to find Lao-Viet Bank I had explored much of central Hanoi and found some amazing backstreets.  I have begun to fall in love with this city: it's the place that most feels like my idea of Vietnam.
12/3Visited Bach Ma Temple (supposedly the oldest in Hanoi) - nothing special.  St Joseph's Cathedral was also disappointing, so I left to walk along the railway lines where a lot of people live their lives.  I explored some more of Hanoi's bustling backstreets away from the tourist zones and the city is growing on me even more: there is just so much going on.
13/3Halong Bay Junk Boat Cruise - Day 1 of 3: Halong Bay port was cloudy and full of tourist junk boats with just a few local fishing boats.  The cruise over was very pleasant and we stopped at a big cave that was lit-up like an inside-out Christmas tree.  The waterways between the islands felt quite eerie because it was very misty and the rocks looked quite surreal - very 'Pirates of the Caribean'.
14/3Halong Bay Junk Boat Cruise - Day 2 of 3: Summitted Ðình Ng? Làm 'mountain' on Cat Ba Island: a staggering 225 metres !  Cruised around the many islands/islets of Halong Bay, in slightly less mist than yesterday, so we were able to take in a bit more of the beauty of the jagged rocks (including one that looked distinctly like a penis!)  Changed to a supposedly 'luxury' junk (oxymoront!?) for night time.
15/3Halong Bay Junk Boat Cruise - Day 3 of 3: woke on the luxury junk boat and cruised around some more of the islands of Halong Bay.  Kayaked around one of the smaller islets and into a couple of caves.  Climbed up to the temple on top of one very steep pinnacle: the view was stunning - thousands of rocks amongst the parting mist !  Got an (overpriced) boat through caves into two scenic inland bays.
16/3Did my bit for the feminist cause and visited the Vietnam Women Museum: aside from the usual bits about war heroines it had some very informative stories about the hard lives of Hanoi's street vendors.  Went to Hao Lo Prison where Senator John McCain was held: aside from that the anti-American propoganda was hilarious !  Strolled around some more of the city's backstreets and railway lines.
17/3Joined the masses to see Ho Chi Min embalmed in his tomb (the poor guy wanted to be cremated!).  The Presidential Palace was a bit of a let-down: it portrays the communist party elite as being very frugal with their people's money.  The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum had some highly intriguing Buddha images !  I was one of 9 tourists for a performance at the Vietnam National Thuong Theatre — with a cast of 21!
18/3BURMA — Flying to Yangon (Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma) today.  According to the UK Foreign Office: "Around 3,200 British tourists visited Burma in 2008 (Burmese Central Statistical Organisation figures).  Ten British nationals required consular assistance in Burma in the period 01 April 2008 - 31 March 2009" - including:- "deaths (3 cases)". THAT'S AROUND A 1 IN A 1000 CHANCE OF BEING KILLED !!!
19/3Breakfasted with a monk.  Almost got conned on a money exchange, but saw through their cunning note bundling trick.  Another group of black-market money changers refused my $50 'small bills' and subsequently, elaborately and skillfully scammed the couple I had just met for a total of $200 - ouch !  Also took in a few of Yangon's sights, inc. Sule Paya, Botataung Paya and the view from Sakura Tower.
20/3Visited Maha Wizaya Paya, which was pleasantly deserted.  Across the road at Shewedagon Paya it was packed with lots of pilgrims all dressed-up for the occasion (whatever it was).  It was great to be one of the VERY few foreigners there: it felt like what travelling is meant to be like - an adventure to somewhere completely different and (relatively) off the beaten track.  Took the bus from Yangon to Kinpun.
21/3Took a truck packed (50+ people) with local pilgrims up Mt Kyaikto. After a final steep uphill trek, Kyaiktiyo - 'Golden Rock' - was poised precipitously and glistening in the morning sun with glorious blue skies beyond: spectacular !  Had my photo taken a LOT.  Got a pick-up from Kinpun to Bago, just in time to arrive at a random Buddhist/Hindu Indian festival.
22/3Strolled around some of the main monuments and religious sites in Bago (Pegu), inc. Maha Kalyani Sima, Shwethalyaung Buddha, Mahazedi Paya and Hintha Gon Paya.  A tip from a moto driver also enabled me to evade paying the Myanmar Government (Dictatorship) the $10 Foreigner Fee at Shwemawdaw Paya.  The locals at the markets were extremely busy (and sincere) !  Eventually got the nigtht bus to Nyaungshwe.
23/3The bus ride required a change in Meiktila at 3 am (lovely!). The road to Nyaungshwe was very dusty and bumpy, but passed through some charming villages went over some crumbling railways and involved overtaking many horse and cart riders.  On the plus side I had some of the best onion bhajis ever for a little over 2p each !  Took a sunset stroll around Nyaungshwe, inc. the river some paya (stupas).
24/3Hired a boat to take us out onto Inle Lake.  Unlike the main lakes in most countries, on this one tourists were outnumbered by local fishermen by 100 to 1 !  However, it did involve the obligatory stops at a cloth weaver, a silversmith and local cigar-type-thing roller's.  The legendary 'jumping cats' of Nga Phe Kyaung monastery lived up to their reputation !  And our boatman even did the leg rowing thing !
25/3Rented some bikes and rode around a few of the small villages near Inle Lake.  We visited a couple of meditation caves and even I managed quite a few minutes of silence !  The monks kept on feeding us lots of roasted beans, fruit and other local staples ... plus a LOT of green tea.  We also visited a vineyard ... although I didn't partake in the poison testing.
26/3Got picked-up by our chartered minivan for the 11 hour drive from Inle Lake to Bagan: 4 of us with 7 seats - cost a few dollars more, but much nicer than taking the bus on Myanmar's bumpy roads !  We passed many people (incl. women and what I'd call children) hand-building the roads.  They don't have much machinery here due to the international trade embargo, so - for example - the tar is painted on by hand !
27/3Went by horse and cart around some of the 4,400 temples on the plain of Bagan, inc. Shwezigon Paya, Gawdawpalin Pahto, Thatbyinnyu Pahto, Ananda Ok Kyaung, Dhammayangyi Pahto and Sulamani Pahto.  The individual temples aren't as impressive as Angkor, but the whole definitely is more impressive than the sum of its parts: gazing out upon 1000's of stupas as far as the eye can see is simply breathtaking!
28/3Not yet tired of the stupa-pendous views of the temples of Bagan, we cycled 20km around the plain. Surprisingly, most of the temples are not guarded or even populated by vendors, so we were able to climb many of the medium-sized stupas for some spectacular views in silence and relative solitude.  We happened upon anothot local festival in the village of Myinkaba.
29/3Boarded the slow-boat from Bagan to Mandalay: 2 days!  We opted for 2nd class (find your own space on deck: $10) because 1st class (some semi-comfy chairs: $20) only had views out of windows, rather than the full panorama of life.  We were as interesting to the locals as vice-versa!  We docked next to a few random shacks along the Ayeyarwardy River - somehwere - and slept on the hard deck; no other option!
30/3Enjoyed another day of relaxing views across the Ayeyarwady River and Myanmar's riverside dwelling folk, their homes and fields, and their oxes with ploughs and carts.  We passed many golden stupas dotting the countryside, but sadly also many large barges laden with hardwood logs for export to China.  After 14 hours yesterday and 10 hours today, we eventually arrived in Mandalay.
31/3The Lonely Planet suggests that the Mingun Paya (the earthquake-battered remains of the base to a planned 150m stupa) is "surely a candidate for the world's largest pile of bricks".  It is!  And very impressive it is too!  Had a brilliant time deliberately 'getting lost' in the back-streets of Mandalay ... and lost 500Kyat (50c) to a local shove-pool-like game.  Saw the 'Moustache Brothers' live (OK-ish).
1/4Some dodgey 'guide' took us to a gold-leaf factory and several wood-carving and weaving shops before deserting us.  Our blue taxi driver didn't speak any English, but he knew the route.  Sagaing was stunning with 500 stupas and lots of monasteries.  Inwa (Ava) was most notable for its precariously leaning watchtower.  Amarapur's U Bein Bridge (the worlds' longest teak bridge) was beautiful for sunset.
2/4Managed to avoid the $10 government fee to climb Mandalay Hill.  The view was great, but the only notable site was the massive grounds of Mandalay Palace, which is full of big old trees: sadly a rare commodity in Myanmar.  I also took in the famous Buddha image at Mahamuni Paya, the tranquil Shwe In Bin Kyaung monastery and the amazing 86th St Market before boarding the night bus from Mandalay to Yangon.
3/4Exhausted after a lack of sleep, but valiantly staggered around the atmospheric streets of Yangon again.  It really is an amazing warren of beautiful British colonial architecture, tightly packed on dusty streets, with the wood, steel and stonework quietly decaying from neglect, and Myanmar's poorest people trying to eek a living by selling their wares on the crumbling pavements.  I bought a 'longyi'.
4/4THAILAND(2) — Took a local bus and a pick-up to the airport due to running out of cash (Myanmar has no ATM's!) and flew from Yangon (Myanmar) to Chiang Mai (Thailand).  Some children were being paraded on proud family shoulders at some kind of Buddhist right of passage ceremony at Wat Phra Singh.  The waxwork monk there is incredibly life-like!  I browsed the night/tourist on the Ratchadamnoen.
5/4Rode around Chiang Mai sorting out a load of boring admin tasks.  Bought my train tickets in advance due to the upcoming Thai New Year festivities.  Burned and posted some back-ups of my photos.  Got a filling replaced.  Spent about 4 hours online catching-up with emails and Facebook.  Booked my 3-day trek, which starts tomorrow - yay!  The red-shirts' protest as Chaiang Mai station drew a crowd of 20!
6/4Trekking near Chiang Mai - Day 1 of 3: Finally got to ride an elephant!  I even got to ride on the elephant's neck like the Mahout (Drivers) do!  OK, it was all a bit touristy, but I loved it!  Trekked for a few miles in the baking heat up hills which had sadly been burned a few days before.  The kids in the hill-tribe village we stayed at sang us a few songs at night: very cute ~ but it was all for tips.
7/4Trekking near Chiang Mai - Day 2 of 3: Trekked for a couple of hours before stopping for a swim at a waterfall.  We then trekked for another hour before stopping at another waterfall for another swim.  Finished with a half hour trek to our campsite by the river for a bit of frisbee ... and yet another swim.
8/4Trekking near Chiang Mai - Day 3 of 3: Had a much needed lie-in before starting our white water rafting.  It is dry season here at present, so the journey was quite slow and relaxing, apart from having to manoeuvre the dinghy around the rocks.  We switched to a bamboo raft for a final drift down-stream.  Randomly bumped into a guy that I met on the Kiwi Experience in NZ 6 months ago.  Hi Kyle!
9/4Had a lie-in to recover from the gruelling heat of the previous few days' trekking.  Caught the train from Chiang Mai to Phitsanulok, which left bang on time, but arrived 2 hours late on a journey that was already meant to be over 8 hours long.  Checked-in to a very dodgy looking hotel with a name only in Thai.  The girls outside seemed very friendly though.
10/4Went to the ancient city of Sukhothai.  The Historical Park is very picturesque, so I can see why people say that it is a 'must see'.  The ruins in Ayuthaya are more extensive, but here in Sukhothai they have done a great job of turning the site into more of a recreational park, which is very pleasant to cycle around and laze about in.  Caught the night-train from Phitsanulok to Bangkok.
11/4Walked around the Khao San Road area: it is deserted compared with the last time I was here due to the Red Shirt demonstrations.  Near the junction with Thanon Ratchadmnoen Klang layed the debris from the riots last night, inc. battered vehicles, bullet holes in walls and blood stains on the roads.  Almost as disturbingly, I went to get measured for a suit and discovered that I still have a 34" waistline!
12/4Had a lazy day sunning myself by the pool on the roof of my hotel on Soi Ram Buttri.  It's well up in the 30's here!  Had my final fittings and alterations done and eventually received my two new tailor-made suits.  Some of the locals were getting ready for the Songkran Festival - which officially starts tomorrow - by getting their water pistols out and having some pre-emptive target practice.
13/4Had another lazy day sunning myself by the roof-top pool of my hotel.  You know that you're ready to go home from a year of travelling when you're in Bangkok and the Thai's are celebrating their New Year (the Songkran Festival) with the biggest water fight on the planet - and consequently also the biggest wet T-shirt competition in the world!!! - and --- you just can't be arsed with it all!
14/4Debated how to say a suitable departing farewell to Bangkok ... and ended-up spending yet another day sunning myself by the roof-top pool and ate some chicken noodle soup ... again
               HOME !!!
    I luckily landed about 4 hours before they closed all the airports.